Christmas wishes from me to you.

"God rest ye merry gentlemen, Let nothing you dismay"
This may well be my shortest post but a sincere one. I would like to thank everyone who has read my blog this year, especially those of you who have left words of encouragement and friendship.
So from a very wet and muddy part of Cheshire, Ted and I send our greetings. May you have a joyous Christmas and a happy and peaceful New Year.


Tea for Three

I had a lovely invitation earlier this month and a chance to meet with two ladies whose blogs I have visited for quite some time now. Knowing that our hostess had recently moved house I thought it would be good to buy her a little housewarming gift, which occasioned a great excuse to go shopping. I live very close to what is referred to in these parts, as “the pot bank” although the potteries are now in very sad decline, there are a few still standing and working. Middleport is England’s last working Victorian pottery and the home of Burleigh who still makes uniquely hand crafted products out of earthenware. The factory has a shop, which is well worth a visit if you are ever in these parts. As you step through the factory gates you step back centuries, it has been faithfully preserved and rescued from closure several years ago by the Dorling family and more recently by Prince Charles. It was good to see regeneration in the streets around the factory, many of the original Victorian terraced houses are being rescued and repaired to their former glory.
As I mentioned, I had the chance to meet with two fellow artists/designers who blog, can you guess who they may be? There are clues in the photograph below.
The card designs belong to Gretel Parker from “Middle of Nowhere” and the lovely Christmassy crochet was designed and created by Sue McLoughlin from “Mouse Notebook” I have written about Sue’s work before and have been carrying my belongings around in her “Mouse” bags for several years now.
It was a joy to sit and dine with these two friends and I believe we could have chatted away into the early hours. We were given a guided tour of Gretel’s newly acquired cottage and despite the fact that she has had scarcely enough time to unpack, the place has a great character and homeliness, lots of light and stunning views across rural Shropshire. We sat, surrounded by cats and books, drank tea, munched on cupcakes made by Sue and I had my very first lesson in needle felting. If you visit Gretel’s website you will see her gorgeous creations and it was great delight to meet some of her felted characters in person. She illustrates children’s books and often paints the toys she has created. I bought one of her original paintings some time ago and I treasure it, she occasionally has original art for sale but not surprisingly they get snapped up by eager collectors.
Before I go I must say a quick thank you to Annie from Knitsofacto for organizing her blog giveaway, I was delighted to win one of the prizes, hooray!
Also many thanks to Heather from "Inkflorishes"for the most beautiful Christmas card and envelope. You may think it strange to thank somebody for an envelope but Heather’s are hand written with the most exquisite calligraphy. If you visit her blog you will see what I mean. Thankfully Ted (my Jack Russell) was sleeping when the postman called!
Last but not least, I have several illustrations now available as framed/unframed prints from Encore Editions. They are having a pre-Christmas sale with 20% off; all you need to do is follow the link and type in the code prancer12 at the checkout.
“The Mouse Prince” illustration was originally commissioned by Royal Worcester as part of a series of "Nutcracker" designs. Shortly after their completion the factory in Stoke closed its doors and the project was never finished.


We have a winner!

Thanks to everyone who took part in my calendar giveaway; a name has been picked out of my hat, ---- drum roll----- and the winner is Kerry O’Gorman.
In my last post I mentioned our trip to London where we visited The British Museum and just managed to catch the Shakespeare exhibition. As that has now closed I will move on to our visit to The British Library where we saw an exhibition called “Mughal India, Art, Culture and Empire
The library itself is based next to St Pancras station; both buildings are worth visiting and could not be more different. The photograph shows the station in the background and the library in front. The new library building reminded me of a Japanese temple. It has simple, modern lines but has a great beauty, not in its ornamentation but in its proportions and in the choice of materials. I love being exploring this wonderful space and if you are anywhere near you should take a moment to go inside. There is always something to see for free, there are places to sit, eat and rest and of course a lovely shop!
The main exhibitions are ticketed, having said that they are not overly expensive and the ones we have seen have been unforgettable. I can honestly say that the current Mughal India exhibition is truly spectacular. There are so many treasures on show the effect is dazzling. I was particularly interested in the exquisite miniature paintings and illuminated books. The artistry on display was amazing, the tiniest of brushstrokes, the brightest of colours, pattern everywhere, on the clothing of the figures in the book illustrations, on the carpets they sat upon and in the borders around the pictures, so much detail it hurt the eyes. If I had to choose one piece it would be a painting of squirrels being chased up a plane tree, you can explore this for yourself here by following the link. As you zoom in over the image bear in mind that this painting is a really small, so much detail has been packed into a tiny area, painted by Abu’l Hasan, 1605-08.
And now, it is time for me to get back to my desk, I have more hand made, limited edition books to parcel up for my Etsy shop. This time I remembered to make a note of the edition numbers outside the boxes, before the final wrap. We live and learn!


November Giveaway!

No sun, no moon!

No morn, no noon
No dawn, no dusk, no proper time of day.

No warmth, no cheerfulness, no healthful ease,

No comfortable feel in any member
No shade, no shine, no butterflies, no bees,

 No fruits, no flowers, no leaves, no birds
Thomas Hood.
This month began much like the poem by Thomas Hood, dreary mist and rain, gloomy news from home about the state of our ash trees, and a distinct lack of birds, which was very worrying. Everyone has remarked on the shortage of starlings this year, even the house sparrows were thin on the ground. We watched the news and worried for the safety of friends across the ocean after the devastation of hurricane Sandy. Added to that we had our own drama here in the shape of a car crash which demolished the telegraph pole across the road, so added an extra line to the poem- No internet- November! Fortunately nobody was hurt and the fault was fixed but it took ten days, which made work very difficult.
It wasn’t all doom and gloom however; we had lots of trips and caught up with family and friends. We went to the NEC in Birmingham and handed over the original painting of “Hare’s Hideaway” to Mike and Hilary Emeny of “Art of the Imagination”. It is always a wrench to part with an original painting, knowing that if all goes well I may never see it again! I was comforted by the fact that printing technology is so far advanced as to allow an accurate copy to be made.
We also visited an exhibition called “The First Cut” in ManchesterThe exhibition showcased the work of 31 international artist who specialize in cutting and manipulating paper. I was particularly drawn to the work of Su Blackwell who’s work is book inspired (see paper house- Wuthering Heights). Many of the works were incredibly complex and fragile and made us wonder about the logistics of setting up such an exhibition. Later in the month we visited London but I will save that for next time.
And now, ladies and gentlemen, I have a give away for you. I have a copy of my “Nature” calendar for 2013 up for grabs. This slimline calendar has twelve different nature based images including many taken from my children’s books. You will find an owl, foxes, a puffin, rabbit and hare, hedgehog and many more. The calendar has been published by Judges and is available in the shops here in the UK only. My giveaway is open to everyone, no matter where you live but please note the holidays are UK bank holidays etc that may not be relevant to you. To be included in the draw all you have to do is indicate you wish to take part by leaving a comment below. I will pick a winner at random on Friday 30th of November.
You may also be interested to learn that you can help a worthwhile charity and buy my new Birthday calendar here- and my Gardener's Scrapbook Calendar 2013 here-


Enchanted October

“Retard the sun with gentle mist; Enchant the land with amethyst..” October by Robert Frost
October here in my neck of the woods can be magnificent, golden sun on autumn leaves, misty-moisty mornings clear to reveal blue skies, the smell of wood smoke, all is magical until the dreaded turning back of the clocks. The extra hour in bed is welcome; the dark evenings are definitely not!
Before the clocks went back we did manage to fit in a few grand days out. We drove a short distance over the border to Wales and visited Chirk Castle; driving through early morning mist and heavy grey skies it was rewarding to find ourselves in an enchanted place. The mist evaporated to reveal the castle and gardens in all their glory. I was particularly taken with a small tower, which put me in mind of Rapunzel. Chirk is a National Trust property and you can read more about its seven hundred year history here.
The gardens are truly beautiful and are filled with tall clipped yew trees. You can wonder past herbaceous borders and through woodland walks and on a clear day there are great views of Shropshire and the Welsh hills.
Work has kept me busy but I did manage to finish the hare painting that I started in the summer. A whole season has past and at times I thought the progress was more akin to a tortoise than a hare, I thought I would never finish it.
I bought a Canon iP4950 which produces incredibly detailed prints, the printer itself was very reasonably priced but as with all ink jet printers the cost of quality inks are almost as expensive as the actual printer and I am restricted to A4 size.
It did used to be the case that dye based inks had no longevity and could not be regarded as archival in the way pigment inks could but the new Canon Chromalife 100 plus inks are now expected to have an album life of 200 years or more. I did consider buying a pigment based printer but had to take into account the fact that they have a tendency to dry up if not in regular use. Forgive me if I sound like an advert for Canon, I assure you I am not being paid to say all this.
You can see the finished print here in my Etsy shop
There has been a little time to play and I enjoyed attending a book-making workshop with artist Louisa Boyd. The concertina books we made concentrated on paper surface manipulation techniques, including, cutting, scoring and piercing. Lou had pre-prepared the images we used and explained how she had used Thermofax screens to print her designs. As with all good workshops I came away buzzing with new ideas and a determination to do more screen prints. Lou also showed us some of her hand bound artists books and I encourage you to see her highly individual work for yourself here-
and she has a Facebook page here.


Feast and Famine

September has almost slipped by with hardly any time to catch my breath. Like a very incompetent juggler, I have been trying to balance a heavy workload with friends and family whilst attempting to keeping up with my little shop and I am afraid my poor blog has suffered from my inattention yet again. As many of you will testify, being a self-employed artist is very much a matter of feast and famine. Some weeks go by in the doldrums and then suddenly the workload is overwhelming and deadlines seem impossible. Not that I am complaining, I would much rather have too much than too little. I have been busy updating my portfolio and working on some packaging and greeting card commissions and extending my Gardener’s Scrapbook Calendar to include cards, magnets, note pads etc. The idea being that we will have a whole stand of related products for The Spring Fair in Birmingham next year. I was also delighted that the first of my Owl prints sold out, hopefully I will have some more in stock soon.
Earlier this month we visited beautiful Budapest. It was my first time to travel to Hungary and Budapest did not disappoint. It was so lovely to be able to walk under clear blue skies and to hop on and off buses, trams, river boats and trains; an entire week of travel for the cost of one day in London. The food was delicious, much of it spiced with paprika, which added, not only flavour but colour to the dishes we sampled. We sailed up and down the Danube and criss-crossed between Buda and Pest with visits to Margaret Island where we saw red squirrels! Budapest by night looks like a scene from Disneyland, the bridges and buildings along the Danube are illuminated and reflected in the river and there is a joyous, friendly atmosphere in the bustling streets and gardens along the banks. By the end of the week we had grown muscles on our muscles, after climbing what seemed like a million steps!
The contrast between rich and poor was very apparent; so many homeless people try to survive in this amazing city. The vast market groaned with fresh produce whilst others searched through bins for scraps of bread. I know this problem is not exclusive to Budapest but it seemed more obvious and made me wonder how people arrive at such destitution. Unemployment, family break down, war, all these things can happen to any of us and it made me very grateful that I have a roof over my head and food in my larder. “There but for the grace of God go I”.
The book in the photograph was a stark reminder of Budapest’s troubled past. It is housed in the Zwack Museum where we sampled Unicom, (I don’t have the words to adequately describe this extraordinarily bitter drink!)


Medieval Inspiration

Tony and I recently visited the City of Norwich, an ancient Cathedral City, which also has a castle, built by the Normans over 900 years ago. You would expect buildings as old as that to be a ruin; they are in fact remarkably intact. The castle actually looks like it could be a recreation made for a film set, it is so perfect and undamaged.
Norwich is a truly beautiful city, so many treasures and so little time with just two days to pack in as much history, art, sight seeing and shopping as possible. We walked along the river, peered into gardens behind flint and stone walls, admired tapestries hung on castle walls and wandered around the cathedral and close.
As you would expect, the cathedral houses many magnificent features built to impress kings; Norwich being second only to London in importance. Despite all its grandeur, the thing that I loved most were the carved stone ceiling bosses, over one thousand and each one different. They reflected the thoughts, imaginations and understandings of the medieval mind. You might expect to see biblical scenes and characters like Noah, but you can also see strange mythical creatures, dragons, green men, and acrobats, thieves compete for attention. The carvings show some of their original colours and gold decoration, faded now but still vibrant and lively.
Filled with enthusiasm and inspiration on my return I set to work embellishing my owl prints. I finished the painting some time ago, you may remember I wrote about it previously. I had the prints professionally printed and was astounded to see what the newest digital printers are capable of, the colours reproduce perfectly and the paper used is comparable to the original watercolour paper, in fact it is almost impossible to tell the original from the reproduction. Rather than offer the prints untouched I decided to add some hand finished details. I used gold leaf on the crescent moon and gold paint and ink on the border decorations. I like to think that the addition of gold leaf and paint gives the prints a human touch and makes a connection with the artisans of the past. You can see the finished print here in my Etsy shop.


"A Time to Dance"

The wedding I mentioned in my last post took place on a beautifully sunny day, thankfully the bride and groom where blessed with golden light as they took their wedding vows. The bride made her own bouquets and corsages out of buttons, silks, ribbons and beads, choosing purple and ivory as the theme. I shed a tear or two as she walked down the aisle on the arm of her father who was also the best man at our wedding. We all asked ourselves where those years had gone and how quickly!
The ceremony took place in a wonderful old Tudor Hall and afterwards the guests could wander through rose gardens and mazes and enjoy a perfectly heavenly day followed by feasting and festivities in the evening.
There was much excitement as the post man arrived with a huge parcel addressed to Ted, in case you don’t already know, Ted is our dog. We had agreed to take part in a trial of his favourite treat, how could we say no? Time will tell whether or not they make a difference to his health, he has always been a healthy, energetic dog despite having just celebrated his 12th birthday, but he is certainly enjoying wolfing back the goodies and his coat does look very shiny and his eyes sparkle.
Grandson George came to stay and we enjoying playing in the garden and doing “plantin” which is his word for gardening. He likes nothing better than watering the plants with a little watering can. We sat still and waited for the birds to take turns, drinking and bathing in the shallow bird bath. Simple pleasures but precious ones.
I had two lovely parcels in the post, one from Celeste Goulding containing an exquisitely wrapped necklace and one from LilyMoon filled with decorated badges and post cards. Both of these ladies have Etsy shops, Celeste can be found here and LilyMoon here
I also made some progress on a new painting but had to put it to one side in order to create new Christmas designs for a presentation. Just as the sun decides to make an appearance I am obliged to paint holly and robins. Such is life!


Busy as a little bee.

I know I promised to write more about the Lake District but time has run away with me once more so forgive me if I fast forward into July. In between rainstorms of epic proportions we have tried our best to catch a little sunshine and keep on top of our little garden, which is lush and green with all that rain! I have had spells of working non stop, to meet deadlines for projects whilst trying not to neglect my family, house and garden and trying to find time to devote to making books to replenish my shop and some just for fun. The apple sketches are made up part of recent packaging project albeit a little out of season.
I made a brown leather long stitch notebook for my husband and a single section notebook for my mum. A needle book for a friend, based on a tutorial by Tiny Happy that you might like to try out yourself here? I also made a wedding guest book for my Goddaughter and had some left over for a miniature.
When the sun did decide to peep out from the clouds we visited nearby Erdigg, which is located in Wales. It seems strange that within a short drive from our home we can be in a place where “garden” is also called “yr ardd”. This eighteenth century country house has a very warm, friendly atmosphere and you get the sense that it housed servants who were valued and well looked after. I loved wandering through the formal gardens and enjoyed the walled gardens with their herbaceous borders and of course I had to take home a plant from their shop; a purple salvia.
We noticed some newly fledged swallows in one of the buildings, if you click on the photograph you can just about make them out, perched on a cartwheel. One of the buildings housed an impressive array of wood working tools and I thought how much my dad would have appreciated those carefully honed chisels. I think I have inherited his love of tools and woe betides anyone who uses my little hammer without replacing it! We treated ourselves to a cream tea and sat outside in the sunshine, a rare treat indeed.
Later we chatted to the beekeeper who told us how difficult the rain and cold has been for the bees. They will not fly in the rain or cold and this will have an effect not only on the honey yield but also on the fruit and flower crops, as they depend on bees to pollinate their flowers. He showed us the inside of the hive and explained how it worked. I had not appreciated the structure of the hives and how they start as a man made form. This is made of bees wax in the shape of a honeycomb; the bees then build their incredible complex structure onto this, just as they would in the wild. The queen bee is confined to the lower compartment, her size prevents her from entering the higher levels; this is to stop her laying her eggs in the honey. Please correct me if I am wrong: I often am!


Mountains and Valleys.

We are halfway through June already and my poor blog has been sadly neglected. We have been out and about and, between jaunts, there has been a great deal of work and catching up to do, so only now do I have time to reflect on recent activities.
We had a wonderful week of sunshine, which coincided with a trip to the Lake District and an artist book workshop run by Emily Martin of the "Naughty Dog Press". The book arts weekend concentrated on paper engineering, making pop-up structures by various methods including cutting into valley folds and mountain folds. I can’t think of a better venue to learn about mountains and valleys!
There was so much to see, lovely walks through forests and lakeside gardens and wonderful houses to visit."Blackwell House" was first on the list; this Arts and Crafts house had an exhibition of Arts & Crafts Stamped Cloth Book Cover Designs which included several book designs by my hero Walter Crane. The house is set on the hillside overlooking Lake Windermere and is a treasure house of Arts and Crafts style furniture, stained glass, books, and textiles, everything in keeping with the architectural style of the house which was designed by Mackay Hugh Baillie Scott
Later in the week we visited Ruskin’s House “Brantwood” which perches on the hillside overlooking Coniston and has the most beautiful garden, which winds down to the shore. I remember visiting when I was in the sixth form studying geography and geology. Ruskin was fascinated by the natural world and collected and drew inspiration from fossils, shells and plant forms. There is something extraordinarily intense about his drawings which spoke to me all those years ago. Later I was to learn about his influence on Art theory, architecture and design, and how he inspired the Pre Raphaelites and designers such as William Morris and Walter Crane who in turn influenced The Arts and Crafts Movement. Looking at the position of his house and garden it is easy to see why he was so influenced by nature and beauty.
"It is written on the arched sky; it looks out from every star. It is the poetry of Nature; it is that which uplifts the spirit within us."
John Ruskin
Of course we had to visit Hilltop farm, home of Beatrix Potter. We even caught a glimpse of Peter rabbit, happily nibbling grass in the orchard. We also visited London but I shall keep that for later. I hope you managed to catch a bit of sunshine too; for the most part we have had the dreariest wet weather.


Bluebells and bookbinding

We have had a peculiar May this year, as I write this the sun is shining as we would expect but earlier in the month we had miserable, grey, cold dreary weather which cast a gloom over everything. The bluebells have been lovely but not so plentiful as previous years. On one of our dog walks we spied a fox near the canal path. We watched as she made her way to a dense patch of brambles and wondered if she had any hungry cubs to feed. The young fox illustration comes from “A Book of Days”, a birthday book I illustrated for Blackie and Son Ltd.
We had a very pleasant visit from artist friend Celeste Goulding, who had traveled to England on holiday from Australia. You may remember Celeste from a previous post? This time we enjoyed an actual rather than a virtual cup of tea. It was so nice to meet her in person.
Work has been busy, getting design collections ready for Surtex, an annual trade fair in New York. I did however find the time to attend a bookbinding workshop with Glenn Malkin, a bookbinder from East Yorkshire. Glenn is an amazing and inspirational craftsman who has a bindery called Signature Bindings Glenn specializes in affordable bindings and repairs, journals and fine bindings. His website contains useful information about forthcoming workshops and events as well as showcasing his award winning designer bindings.
In the one-day workshop we managed to complete three books. One wrap around binding, one Japanese stab binding and a little single section cased binding. All the materials were supplied including the lovely marbled papers. I was especially pleased with the book, which utilized part of an old map, an idea I am sure I will use again. Maybe next time I will remember that as this structure is covered with a map it has a front, back a head and a tail. I managed to create a back and a front the same way up but would have preferred the back to be the front, although in Japan it would have worked perfectly! Finally I have been creating an online print shop with Society6, the shop currently offers art prints and stretched canvases, and I hope to add more images in due course.


And the winner is...........

Hi everyone, as promised I had to pick a winner for my blog giveaway today and the first name out of the hat was Beth Niquette. So, if Beth emails me her postal address I will send my book across the big blue yonder. Thank you so much to everyone who entered and took time to help out with some market research, I am very grateful for your input. I am sorry this is a very short blog post, I am super busy, cutting and sticking and sewing and designing in a last minute dash for a trade fair. The photo above shows a small sample of an incredible bargain bag of odds and ends I bought recently in a clearance sale. In total 90 spools of assorted thread for £5 and a big bag of buttons for £1, a bag of zips and a bag of ribbons also for £1 each! Don't you just love a bargain?


Children's Book Giveaway

Thank you so much for all the lovely comments you left about my children's book. It has been very heartwarming to read them, I really do appreciate your visits. This week I am hosting my own giveaway open to anyone who cares to enter. I have a signed copy of “White is the Moon” to give to you but first, I hope you will help me in a little market research. I have recently had some postcards printed, there are two sets available in my Etsy shop and I am wondering which people will like the best? So, if you would like a free, signed copy of my book please leave a comment below and say which animal postcard appeals to you the most.
I have always loved frogs, though I know that many hate them, it was lovely to see so many tadpoles whilst walking yesterday. We have been experiencing very heavy rain and cold, wintry weather but yesterday saw a bit if sunshine so we put on our dog walking boots and headed to the fields. The rain has made everything look so fresh and green, cowslips and primroses in flower, every cloud has a silver lining I suppose!
I will choose a winner on Wednesday the 2nd of May, so bye for now and good luck.


HURRY! HURRY! Book Giveaway and two interviews.

I am having a very lazy week, my blog friends are doing all the work for me! I have two online interviews; the first about art licensing and you can read it here on Alex Colombo's art blog The Moon from my Attic

Secondly, for a chance to win a copy of my book "White is the Moon" all you have to do is visit "Good Books for Young Souls" where I have been interviewed by Wendy.

To enter the "White is the Moon" giveaway all you need to do is leave a comment on Wendy's blog, following the links and leave a comment but please HURRY because the giveaway finishes on Thursday. Please note Wendy can only ship to a USA address. However,I will be hosting my own giveaway on this blog next week open to everyone.

You can also try out the "Look inside feature" in the Amazon shop to give you more idea about the book.

Thank you so much Alex and Wendy and good luck everyone.